Tori Amos Is Unrepentant On New Album

GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter discusses recording her latest effort, Unrepentant Geraldines, and collaborating with her daughter
  • Photo: Amarpaul Kalirai/Mercury Classics
    Tori Amos
May 12, 2014 -- 12:57 pm PDT
By Bryan Reesman / GRAMMY.com

Set for release on May 13, Unrepentant Geraldines, Tori Amos' latest studio album, marks the GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter's return to the pop/rock idiom after five years of journeying into the realms of classical and orchestral music. Featuring 14 songs written by Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines is a well-crafted, stylish affair that, true to form, marries music and lyrics in often subversive ways. While writing the album, Amos was influenced by a host of themes such as personal empowerment, grief, mortality, and surveillance, as well as visual art by the likes of Daniel Maclise, Paul Cézanne and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

While the eclectic singer/songwriter has often pushed the creative envelope, Unrepentant Geraldines offers new sounds as well as a mixture of styles from throughout her career. Due to a hectic schedule while writing lyrics and music for the British musical "The Light Princess," Amos created the album solely with her longtime engineers and mixers, husband Mark Hawley (aka guitarist Mac Aladdin) and Marcel van Limbeek, at her home studio in Cornwall, United Kingdom.

Currently in the midst of an international tour, Amos participated in an exclusive GRAMMY.com interview and delved into the making of the album, collaborating with her daughter, the current state of the industry for singer/songwriters, and what not to wear onstage.

How did the various influences come into play during the making of Unrepentant Geraldines?
Each record comes at a time in your life. I'd been working a lot with orchestras and that kind of influence, and "The Light Princess" was orchestral as well. I wanted to do something different than that. I was driven to do something different because these [new] songs were being written while I was involved with other projects. We didn't have time to record it like we used to — fly musicians in, carve out all this time — so we had to figure out the arrangements and then go about recording it when we could. We just did everything by ourselves.

Your daughter Tash appeared on your 2011 classical album Night Of Hunters. She's also featured on "Promise" on this album. What has it been like bringing her into the fold?
She's very funny as a person. She's got the British humor and has been around the world many, many times. Even though she's 13, she's grown up backstage. She was on all the tours; there were tutors. At 11, she ditched us and went to boarding school. That was her idea. She says, "I love you guys, I've got to go live my life now." We kind of thought, "Wow? Really?" She said, "Yeah, you guys will be OK without me." [laughs] She is an only child, and I think we have a good relationship with her. We communicate with her.

I imagine she must do a great impression of you.
Oh, she does.

How do you feel when she does that?
You just have to laugh because it's funny.

Is there anything specifically that she does that comes to mind?
I don't know if I'd tell, but she just nails it. But the thing is we talk about [how] parents can be really critical. She's talked to me about that. She sees it a lot [at] school, and because she boards she has this other life and it's gotten her to be very observant. For instance, we were talking about the kids who are smoking way too much pot and how they might be missing really good opportunities because she's at a great school. She's at a performing arts school, and a lot of these kids work. We've talked about people throwing away their opportunities and how you can believe that this opportunity is going to come again. But it doesn't always come again.

I was watching your Oxygen channel performance from 12 years ago, and you wore a long, flowing outfit. I was curious if you had ever worn anything onstage that got in the way of your performance?
The difficult thing is when you get tangled up in your own stuff with the pedals and doing Rick Wakeman. So no capes. It doesn't work. You always have to make sure that the material isn't getting caught in the high heels, the stilettos, because you can really get caught. You have to be very aware of where the wires are, your in-ear monitors, or you can trip yourself. Because they're dangling everywhere. You just have to be aware when you're up there.

You've been releasing music for more than 25 years now. How do you view the place of female singer/songwriters such as yourself in the industry now as opposed to when you were starting out?
Two things: I think that there are a lot of entertainers out there [who] are getting a deal, an opportunity because of the [music competition] shows. My songwriter friends are quite happy because that side of the industry is somewhat healthy [and] they are able to then write the songs for the entertainer. And some of the producers are doing OK. But [for] songwriters who are performing their own songs, there are not as many of those contracts right now in 2014. Some of them [who] do get lucky make their luck. They put it out on YouTube, and maybe they are able to expand their audience and get picked up. But you've got to fund your tour. So when somebody says, "Why doesn't someone get on a bus [and tour]," a bus is 80 grand a week, OK? You have to be aware of what it is now, put a smile on your face, roll up your sleeves, and say, "I don't mind the challenge." That's OK. But for the new singer/songwriters [who] are coming up, it would be prudent if the record labels were able to develop some of them because not everybody is ready to just go from the living room to taking [the] stage at Radio City [Music Hall].

(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)

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